There are few places on earth as eerie and otherworldly as the giant flaming crater known as The Gates of Hell (also known as the Darvaza Gas Crater or the Door to Hell) in the country of Turkmenistan. This accidental tourist attraction is a collapsed natural gas field that has been burning for about 50 years. Turkmenistan is a country shrouded in mystery, and the crater is located in the remote Darvaza area, so not much is known definitively about the origin of the burning canyon. One theory is that a Soviet natural gas extraction company caused the collapse of the natural gas field in 1971 and, in an effort to burn off excess gases that began to escape, lit a controlled fire that is still burning today. Whatever or whoever caused the canyon may be unclear, but the result is striking. The pit burns continuously year-round and is nearly 100 feet deep with a diameter of 226 feet. This is definitely a bucket-list destination for so many reasons. Check out these stranger-than-fiction facts about this lonely desert inferno.
10 Previous Attempts Have Been Made To Extinguish The Crater
Over the fifty years that the crater has been burning, multiple attempts have been made to extinguish it, but none have been successful. Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov previously ordered the Gates of Hell extinguished in 2010. In early 2022, Berdymukhamedov again called for the flames to be put out, but it was not immediately clear how that could be accomplished. There are two big problems that any attempt to seal the crater must address: first, the raging flames, and second, the nearly endless stream of toxic gas that’s constantly escaping.
9 Only One Person Has Entered The Fiery Pit And Lived To Tell
In 2013, George Kourounis became the first person to successfully descend to the bottom of the pit and return. For a National Geographic expedition, Kourounis entered the pit and collected soil samples. He recounted the experience to Smithsonian Magazine and noted that flames would appear where he freshly dug into the canyon floor. The professional explorer and photographer needed special equipment to safely enter the canyon. A head-resistant suit and Kevlar climbing harness helped Kourounis to withstand the inferno.
8 There Is Life In The Flames
The National Geographic expedition revealed that some unusual lifeforms were thriving in the inhospitable conditions of the Darvaza crater. These microorganisms are part of a class of living things known as extremophiles because of their ability to flourish in extreme environments. Scientists found that these organisms were so well adapted to life in the crater that they actually flourish in high temperatures and low-nutrient conditions, unlike most life on earth which generally favors temperate and nurturing ecosystems.
7 The Gates Of Hell Crater Is One Of The Hottest Places On Earth
It’s not surprising that the Darvaza crater is extremely hot. But it is far hotter than almost anything else in nature. For example, the continuously burning fires make this pit about six times hotter than the hottest air temperature ever recorded on Earth: a sweltering 134 degrees Fahrenheit at Death Valley, California. At 752 degrees, the Gates of Hell dwarfs the Death Valley record several times over. This extreme heat has made learning about the interior of the crater incredibly difficult. It took 40 years before anyone managed to enter the canyon and survive.
6 At Night, Spiders Sacrifice Themselves In The Flames
As if a place called the Gates of Hell couldn’t get any creepier, firsthand accounts of travelers mention hoards of spiders being drawn to the heat of the crater - and their own demise - at night. One scientific explanation is simply that spiders are drawn to the glow of the flames in an otherwise dark desert landscape. However, the disturbing image of spiders creeping through the sand toward a hellish pit and offering themselves en masse to the fire is certainly one of the reasons the Darvaza Gas Crater has earned its sinister reputation.
5 One Of The Strangest Campsites On Earth
Visitors to the Gates of Hell canyon are accommodated in tents and sleep around the crater’s upwind edge, lulled by the crackling orange glow from deep inside. Because of scorching winds blowing off the canyon, visitors can only stay on more habitable parts of the crater rim. Traveler accounts mention that desert temperatures drop when the sun goes down, and staying warm becomes the main focus overnight. These harsh conditions and the otherworldly setting make Darvaza Gas Crater one of the most unique campsites ever.
4 There’s Nothing Much To Do At This Tourism Site
Without a doubt, the Darvaza Gas Crater is a truly special place on Earth. However, visitors may be surprised by how few tourists go there each year. There are no tourist amenities around the crater, just miles of barren sand. The reason for this is the country’s staunch isolation. Turkmenistan has been ranked as the second-most isolated country in the world, topped only by secretive North Korea. Foreign tourists are only allowed to leave the capital city of Ashgabat with a registered tour guide. Given its reputation and the difficulty of entering the country, Turkmenistan only receives about 10,000 tourists per year.
3 A Deadly Gas Is Fueling The Flames Inside The Crater
When the pit first collapsed during an operation to identify fossil fuels several decades ago, there was no fire burning. It was simply an industrial accident. Researchers quickly discovered, however, that methane gas was escaping from the newly opened crater. Engineers attempted to burn off the escaping gas with a small fire expected to last only a few days. However, unknown to the team at the crater, this particular site is connected to a large reserve of methane gas, the major component of natural gas.
2 Hell May Be A Gold Mine
Well, not literally. But economically, the Darvaza Gas Crater may hold tremendous potential. Scientists speculate that beneath the crater is a massive reserve of methane that can be extracted for natural gas production. That’s not a far-fetched assumption in Turkmenistan’s sprawling Karakum desert. The country is home to the Earth’s 6th largest natural gas reserve and the second largest single natural gas field. It is not clear just how much methane is below, but there is so much of this gas escaping that the crater has been burning unmitigated for half a century.
1 A Nuke Might Be The Only Way To Close The Gates Of Hell
Scientists have sought ways to snuff the flames. Filling the crater with soil wouldn’t stop methane from escaping, but a powerful blast just might. An underground explosion would suck out the oxygen that feeds the fire and collapse the openings where methane is welling up from deep inside the earth. In the 1960s, a gas well in Uzbekistan burned for three years, and Soviet engineers extinguished it with a nuclear bomb blast. However, nukes release lots of radiation that could have unfathomable long-term effects. So, while it’s unlikely a nuke will be used, it’s certain that any effort to extinguish the Gates of Hell will be a Herculean task.